The family policing system criminalizes and punishes certain behaviors and identities, deeming certain parents as “good” and others as “bad,” which contributes to the separation of families. What is viewed as “good” and “bad” is almost always racialized, classed, queerphobic, and rooted in White supremacist beliefs and definitions of parenting and caregiving. We support ending the criminalization and punishment of stigmatized behavior or ways of being, as this punishment further marginalizes families and contributes to the separation of children from their families and communities.
Decriminalize drug use and end the punishment of parents for substance use.
Criminalizing drugs and the United States’ “war on drugs” has not curbed drug use.59 However, criminalization disproportionately impacts Black communities—and Native and Latinx communities to varying degrees—who are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for buying, using, and selling drugs.60 We support the decriminalization of all drug use. In addition, we recognize that not all drug use is chaotic; drug use does not necessarily impair parents’ and caregivers’ abilities to care for their children.61 When families do need support with substance use, they should have access to treatment that is supportive, non-coercive, and focuses on harm reduction. Drug use should not be used as a reason to separate and harm families.
Decriminalize sex work.
Many sex workers are parents who engage in sex work to support their families. When sex work is criminalized, parents are punished for engaging in it through both the criminal punishment system and the family policing system. The stigma that comes with the criminalization of sex work stops families from seeking supportive services they may need.62 In addition, there is mounting evidence that decriminalizing sex work aids in efforts to decrease human trafficking and violence against sex workers by reducing marginalization and vulnerability.63 Decriminalizing sex work helps keep families and children safe and together.
End the punishment of survivors of intimate partner violence.
Too often family policing agencies punish parents who are survivors of intimate partner violence by holding them responsible for neglect or failure to prevent their children from being exposed to violence.64 When survivors reach out to intimate partner violence support workers, because of mandatory reporting requirements, workers report the information survivors share with them to the family policing system and that information is used as evidence against them and as a basis for removal of their children.65 These approaches are inherently rooted in stigma and punishment and do not center the needs of survivors or their children. Intimate partner violence is complex, and many survivors might still wish for their children to have relationships with parents who have engaged in acts of violence. Families should have access to resources and care that assist them in holding those who have engaged in violence accountable while also centering care, safety, and healing without the threat of being separated from their children.
End the use of ableism to remove children from their parents.
Parents and caregivers with physical and cognitive disabilities, especially parents who are Black and living in poverty, are often seen as incapable of caring for their children. Parents with disabilities face some of the highest removal rates by family policing agencies.66 Moreover, families experiencing poverty often lack the support and resources to care for children with disabilities. Families should have access to resources that are supportive and do not further stigmatize and punish disabilities.